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Amid housing crisis, many cities have vacant residential land: StatCan

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As Canadians continue to grapple with a housing crisis, a new Statistics Canada report has revealed that five of the country’s major cities have large swaths of vacant residential land.

The report also noted the skyrocketing cost of construction in major cities.

While there are many reasons behind a housing crisis, the report suggest that availability of land is not prime among them in some cities. According to the StatCan report released on Wednesday, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Halifax all had vacant residential lots as of 2021.

Ottawa-Gatineau had the highest quantity of vacant residential land, both in terms of proportion (18 per cent) and overall area (162,000 acres).

Halifax, too, has a high quantity of vacant residential land at 15 per cent with 151,000 acres, with Toronto having nine per cent or 131,000 acres vacant, Vancouver  with 4.5 per cent or 32,000 acres, and Edmonton having 2.5 per cent or 59,000 acres.

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In some cities, the vacant land is disproportionately concentrated in the city’s downtown cores, which can lead to an urban-suburban divide, the data showed.

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The bulk of the vacant land in Ottawa, nearly 76 per cent, was located within the city limits as of 2021. Edmonton, too, had a high percentage of vacant residential lots in the downtown area at nearly 34 per cent.

Other cities, however, had more dense downtown cores.

Toronto, for example, had only 2.1 per cent of its downtown residential land vacant while Vancouver’s vacancy in downtown was just 0.3 per cent.

Ownership of vacant land was also considered in the report, which said that in the Atlantic provinces, vacant land was more likely to be owned by people who owned multiple properties.

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Toronto saw the highest jump in construction costs, with the city seeing a 74 per cent increase in construction costs between 2010 and 2022. Ottawa-Gatineau, with nearly 70 per cent and Edmonton over 62 per cent, also saw significant increases in construction costs.

Supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 were among the reasons cited.

The report said that between 2010 and 2022, employment in the construction sector also rose quite steadily. The rate of employment rose fastest in Ontario (over 43 per cent) and Quebec (nearly 27 per cent). However, despite the increase in job vacancy rates, wages in the construction sector have not kept up, the report said.

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